BANGKOK – Asian markets were mixed Tuesday amid low expectations for the summit of G-20 leaders and gloomy forecasts the region would continue to struggle as the global economy flounders. European markets rose in early trade.
Economic fears weighed on investors as the Asian Development Bank slashed its 2009 growth forecast for the region's developing economies due to plunging exports. Meanwhile, an Australia central banker said the country's economy would shrink this year.
The region's markets tumbled Monday as events in the U.S. signaled that ailing auto giants General Motors and Chrysler were being corralled into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by the Obama administration. But benchmarks are still up strongly for the month, reflecting a rally that some analysts say was driven largely window-dressing by big funds.
"There were a lot of big names active in the past month trying to talk up the market and improve performance because for many fund managers March is the last month of the financial year," said Arjuna Mahendran, head of Asian investment strategy at HSBC Private Bank in Singapore.
"That fed on itself but it didn't reflect anything fundamental. First quarter corporate results are bound to be downbeat and on the macroeconomic front, the situation is still very opaque," he said.
Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average reversed early gains to fall 126.55 points, or 1.5 percent, to 8,109.53, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 119.69, or 0.9 percent, to 13576.02 after diving nearly 5 percent on Monday.
In South Korea, where a central bank survey showed manufacturers were becoming less pessimistic, the Kospi was up 0.7 percent. Mainland China's Shanghai index gained 0.6 percent, Australia's index was down 0.6 percent, while Singapore's index rose 1.7 percent. Markets in New Zealand and the Philippines fell.
European markets were higher in morning trade, with Britain's FTSE 100 up 2.2 percent, Germany's DAX adding 0.9 percent and France's CAC-40 gaining 1.2 percent. Stock futures pointed to modest gains Tuesday on Wall Street. Dow futures rose 60 points, or 0.8 percent, to 7,540 and S&P500 futures gained 6.7, or 0.9 percent, to 791.
Ahead of a closely watched U.S. employment report at the end of the week, there was further evidence from Japan that its economy, the world's second-largest, continues to slump. Japan's unemployment rate jumped to 4.4 percent in February and families sharply cut spending, underscoring the government's growing sense of urgency that it needs to mount a bigger defense.
Prime Minister Taro Aso is expected to unveil new stimulus measures during this week's Group of 20 summit in London, on top of about 12 trillion yen ($122 billion) in public spending announced last year.
Even so, hopes have faded that the meeting of the 20 biggest industrialized and developing nations — who together make up 85 percent of the world economy — will produce any breakthrough measures to counter the worst economic slump since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In a worst case scenario, the summit could even exacerbate tensions between the U.S., the European Union and China over economic and fiscal policies. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who is also EU President, highlighted those faultlines last week when he slammed President Barack Obama's plan to spend nearly $2 trillion to push the U.S. economy out of recession as "the road to hell."
"We are going into the meeting with low expectations which is a good thing because it will help avoid disappointment," said Mahendran of HSBC.
Investors are also bracing for a raft of first quarter earnings reports, which are generally expected to confirm companies endured lousy business conditions in the first three months of 2009.
Overnight in the U.S., the Dow Jones industrials tumbled 254.16, or 3.3 percent, to 7,522.02. It was down as much as 339 points. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 28.41, or 3.5 percent, to 787.53, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 43.40, or 2.8 percent, to 1,501.80.
In oil markets, prices edged up Tuesday in Asia but remained below $50 a barrel as the increasing likelihood of a major automaker bankruptcy in the U.S. sparked renewed jitters over the global economy.
Benchmark crude for May delivery rose 74 cents to $49.15 in Asian electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell more than 7.6 percent, or $3.97, to settle at $48.41 on Monday.
In currencies, the dollar rose to 98.39 yen from 97.34 late Monday in New York, while the euro rose to $1.3258 from $1.3185.
AP business writer Jeremiah Marquez in Hong Kong contributed to this report.